Rachel Hawkins (right) holds open a book bag for her daughter, Talia Hawkins, 3, while brother Weston Hawkins, 9 months, waits in the Everett Public Library on Wednesday. The city is looking to reduce costs in library, fire and transit services next year. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Rachel Hawkins (right) holds open a book bag for her daughter, Talia Hawkins, 3, while brother Weston Hawkins, 9 months, waits in the Everett Public Library on Wednesday. The city is looking to reduce costs in library, fire and transit services next year. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Budget cuts $5.6 million from Everett’s long-term deficit

It’s a work in progress. More and bigger cuts are coming next year, Mayor Cassie Franklin warned.

EVERETT — After scrutinizing Everett’s finances, searching for savings big and small, Mayor Cassie Franklin presented a slightly leaner 2019 budget that shrinks Everett’s ongoing deficit by $5.6 million.

When Franklin announced her proposed budget in October, she warned more cuts would be coming next year as the city looks to reduce costs in library, fire and transit services, which could include merging with regional systems. The two city-owned golf courses also will be up for discussion next year.

The Everett City Council unanimously approved the 2019 budget at its meeting Wednesday.

“I think this budget really does reflect our priorities as a city,” said Scott Murphy, who chairs the budget committee. “And it starts to make a down payment on getting more efficient as a city.”

Among the cutbacks are three employee layoffs, and the reduction of about 10 other vacant positions, out of 1,200 jobs citywide. The moves save the city about $1.7 million, according to Meghan Pembroke, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office. To further reduce staff costs, the city is considering incentives to encourage employees to voluntarily leave or retire.

No police officers or firefighters are losing their jobs. Two more patrol officer positions were added by eliminating two unfilled top-level jobs. An open assistant fire chief job also was replaced with a firefighter position.

The Animal Farm, the seasonal petting zoo at Forest Park, was slated for elimination. However, funding was kept for at least another year, in the hopes that another organization would take it over. A membership fee also was added at the senior center.

Some of the largest cuts were made to the streets fund, which pays for repaving projects. And the city reduced by about half next year’s contribution to the police and fire pensions. Those decisions were temporary reductions intended to bridge the gap for 2019. Those efforts are separate from the $5.6 million in long-term spending reductions.

Everett has faced a budget shortfall for about a decade and a half. At the beginning of the year, the gap between revenues and expenditures stretched to nearly $13 million. A series of long- and short-term cuts balanced the budget this year.

The 2019 general fund expenses are estimated at $138.4 million. The spending plan drew input from staff and the council’s budget committee.

“Even the little things matter, because it all adds up,” Council President Paul Roberts said.

Franklin, who took office early this year, has blamed some of the city’s budget woes on the state’s 1 percent property-tax cap. Expenses grow about 4 percent a year, while revenues don’t keep pace, she said.

“We can’t offer the same level of services with less and less money,” Franklin said in an interview Wednesday.

No new taxes are in store for residents, though the city has proposed increasing the gambling tax on activities such as bingo and pull tabs. A handful of new fees are recommended but not yet approved by the council, including a charge for processing credit cards and for false alarms that use up emergency resources.

Next year the city could be looking at slashing another $10.8 million. To do that, councilmembers and the mayor plan to tackle bigger issues, such as how to pay for fire, library and transit services.

A recent report found the city provided more services than comparable jurisdictions. Of the identified peer cities, the study showed Everett was the only one that owned two golf courses, and directly provided fire, library, parks, transit and water services.

“Many cities divested of these during the recession, and we did not,” Franklin said.

“Our goal is to continue to provide those services to Everett,” she said. “The question is how. Will it be Everett or a combination of Everett and regional partners?”

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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